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Presidential Candidate Make-or-Break Time

January 29th, 2016

click on the chart to enlarge

You probably know by now that a new president of the United States will be elected this year … on  November 8th .

There are two main political parties — the  Democrats  and the  Republicans  — who have candidates in the race.

The donkey is the Democrats' political symbol. The elephant is the Republicans'.

And you’re likely familiar with at least some of the men and women campaigning for the job.

The  Democrats  currently have  three  people running for president:  Hillary Clinton , Martin O’Malley , and Bernie Sanders .

The  Republicans  have  twelve at the moment Jeb Bush , Ben Carson , Chris Christie , Ted Cruz , Carly Fiorina , Jim Gilmore Mike Huckabee , John Kasich , Rand Paul , Marco Rubio , Rick Santorum , and Donald Trump .

Up until now, the focus has been on getting to know the candidates.

But, beginning Monday,  February 1st , the whole election process shifts to make-or-break time. It’s time to narrow the candidates down to just one Democrat and one Republican.

Those two will then square off against each other in the general election … and one of them will be elected the  45th president  of the United States.

How do we get it down to one Democrat and one Republican?

State by state.

For the  next five months  — from now until you’re done school in June — Democrats in each and every state (and territory) will vote for which Democrat they support. And Republicans will do the same.

States go about this in  two  main ways:  primaries  and  caucuses .

More states hold primaries than caucuses. You can see the history of how the process came about in the video below:

It gets complicated and is a little different in each state, but basically …


In states that hold primaries, you just go to a voting place, mark your piece of paper with your vote, hand it in, and you’re good to go.


Caucuses, however, particularly Democratic caucuses, are different. They’re not private like primaries. When you caucus, you go to a gathering place like a school, community center or church basement with a group of others and you openly discuss who you support. You talk, you debate, and then you physically arrange yourselves in groups based on who you want to vote for.

What states are coming up?

Iowa is first in the nation on February 1. They caucus.

New Hampshire is the first primary in the country, on February 9.

Iowa and New Hampshire often set the tone for the rest of the country so a lot of people are waiting to see what will happen there.

Then toward the end of the month, it’s  Nevada’s  turn. It’s the  first western state  to go and it usually sets the tone for the western part of the U.S.   Nevada caucuses.

Then  South Carolina  goes, the  first state in the southern part of the U.S ., which sets the tone in that region of the country. South Carolina holds primaries.

Some candidates usually drop out after the first few contests sensing they won’t be able to win but this time around the prediction is that it’ll be a long primary process on both sides.

Super Tuesday

On  March 1st , a whole bunch of states have their primaries and caucuses all at once — it’s called Super Tuesday.

By the time the last of the states hold their contests, we’ll pretty much already know who the Republican nominee and Democratic nominee are … but there’s still a big party where they’re officially announced.

The Republicans officially announce their presidential candidate at the  Republican National Convention  July 18-21 in Cleveland, Ohio.

The Democrats announce theirs at the  Democratic National Convention , July 25-28, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

More on that (and who gets to attend … and why) in a future post.

Additional resources:

Scholastic: Election Central

Newsy: Primary vs Caucus

Primary election explainer by CGP Grey

Khan Acadamy: Primaries and caucuses 

Explainity: How the U.S picks its president . It’s from 2012 but that aside is a good primer.

U.S. elections … explained by the UK.

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